Saturday, August 30, 2008

Unintentional Medical Tourism

It was not my intent to outsource my medical care to Honduras. Actually, the trip was to visit our niece, a Peace Corps volunteer. The itinerary was well planned with stops in the mountains and the beaches. Hotels and a jeep were reserved. The Copan Mayan ruins had long been a desired destination. My sister-in-law from New York City and our son joined my husband and me and we were ready for the adventure.

Susanna was there to greet us at the airport in Tegucigalpa and to regale us with her stories of life in the Peace Corps. She casually described the weirdness she lived with every day, including the damage machete knives can do to sugar cane and people. Gently, we changed the subject to food.

The next day, we drove to Susanna’s small town of Villa de San Antonio. She led us on a walking tour and introduced the workers at the town orphanage. Several Europeans volunteers were working with these beautiful children. We also explored the teen center where Susanna worked.

The tour ended at a friend’s home who was celebrating a birthday that evening. The house was bursting with people and food but I wasn’t hungry. Early in the evening, I excused myself to return to Susannah’s house. It was then my physician husband knew something was wrong. His exam and questions led to only one diagnosis - I had appendicitis. It was 9 p.m. and we were in a small village in Honduras.

An interesting discussion ensued on the next step. Susanna called the Peace Corps which had two suggestions. In a nearby town, there were Cuban doctors and a small hospital. Cuba has well trained physicians which they have shared throughout Central America and you are considered fortunate to have one. The other suggestion was to return to the capital, Tegucigalpa We hesitated. ALL of our guide books and EVERY person we talked to echoed the same mantra, DO NOT DRIVE IN HONDURAS AT NIGHT. Bandits were known to appear suddenly. We decided to take the chance and entered the dark road to the capital.

The good news is that everyone there avoids driving at night and no one was on the road except an occasional cow. We arrived in Tegucigalpa in record time with no idea where the recommended hospital was. And there are literally no street signs. A taxi had paused at a service station and we stopped to ask his assistance. He agreed to lead us to the hospital. (Susanna tried to bargain the price with him until we told her we could spring for the 50 cents she was trying to save us!) Off we sped to the "Honduran Medical Center", a lovely, clean, modern hospital with an armed guard at its entrance and no one in its emergency room. Soon Dr. Herbert Lopez arrived in his leather jacket, clearly surprised to have me as a patient. "Que barbaridad" was his response to my situation. Two hours later, the surgery began with two surgeons and an anesthesiologist. I woke up in my own private room without an appendix but with a relieved husband at my side.

If Spanish weren’t being spoken, it could have been a room in any modern American hospital. The cable TV carried the Mavericks game. When a male nurse entered, he stopped to comment on the still unfortunate trade of Steve Nash by the Mavericks and admitted that his favorite team was the Boston Celtics. There were some quirks. The phone rang with calls from strangers asking for certain patient’s rooms. Some were not too friendly as I explained I was a patient, too, and had no idea where their patient was. Now, I was indeed fortunate to have a Spanish speaking physician husband, especially on some of the recovery decisions. But the doctors and hospital staff provided very considerate care. Dr. Lopez even offered to write a letter confirming I needed four weeks to recover.

The trip was, obviously, cut short. After a couple of days recovering at Leslie’s Place, a pleasant bed and breakfast, we returned home. there were some positives. My sister-in-law swears she was saved from dengue fever since we never had to spend the night in rural Honduras. AND the hospital accepted Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance. They should have been happy to pay the bill. Compared to U.S. prices, the company saved at least $3,000. But the Copan Mayan ruins remain unseen and we’ll just have to try again. So, until the next column, remember to always carry your insurance card!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Marable Family Chorus

The First Presbyterian Church of Clarksville is 175 years old this year, earning the honor of being the oldest continuously operating Protestant church in Texas. A celebration was in order and I traveled to Clarksville in June to attend its anniversary choral service. The combined Presbyterian and Methodist choirs performed with smiles and great energy. But inserted into the middle of the program was a performance by the "Marable Family Chorus", a name that invited comparison to the Von Trapp Family singers from "The Sound of Music" . When it was their time to sing, the chorus emptied the right one-fourth of the church and moved forward. Five generations stacked themselves before the crowd and leisurely sang "In the Garden" a cappella with eight part harmony. As their director said afterwards, " We often get so captured listening to ourselves, we slow down."

I was curious to know what induced this family to journey from all parts to Clarksville for the anniversary. It turns out they have sung in East Texas for a very long time. Their ancestor, Sam Corley, was known as the "Sweet Singer of Israel" and was the first Presbyterian minister in Clarksville. He died in a Civil War battle in 1863 but his oldest son, A.P. Corley, raised his children in Clarksville. The Corley Chapel at the church is dedicated to Sam Corley. The last of his descendants still living in Clarksville died in 2004.

The participants in the anniversary chorus were primarily descendants of A.P. Corley’s daughter, Mattie Corley and her husband, F.F. Marable - hence the name "Marable Family Chorus" . From this pair and their seven children came generations of singers, performers, musicians, speakers, writers, and hams. Their daughter, Ruth Marable, (Miss Ruth) studied under Fred Waring and generously used his arrangements with her choir students at Clarksville High School. She was a known taskmaster but fair and fun. Her speech students learned the hard way that the word, ‘think’, is not pronounced ‘thank’. And she had advice for other choral directors, "always dress from the back" and "always leave them wanting more."

Ruth’s brother, Paul, played the mandolin. Their sister, Mary, who was known to have ‘played the piano on the radio’, accompanied her siblings as they sang at countless funerals and other performances. At home, the brothers would beg the sisters to sing at the Christmas gathering. Acting and singing "Knock and the Door Will Open" brought smiles of contentment. Since small town culture often rests in church choirs and school plays, Clarksville’s patrons of the arts were the Marables, donating talent where needed.

Though not residents of Red River County, the next generations of cousins continued to gather in Clarksville for summer and Christmas vacations through the 1950's and 1960's. As one cousin reflected, they would do anything to get to Clarksville for Christmas. A new play was penned each year to be performed by the cousins for the family and neighbors. Chairs were borrowed from Jolly Funeral Home to accommodate the crowd at the house. And at midnight on Christmas Eve, they always caroled (in harmony) with "Silent Night" as the favorite.

Interestingly, there were no music lessons, no formal voice training and no assignment of parts. Children harmonized by simply singing the same part of the person next to them - the classic learning by example. They were often short of tenors and some of the women would pick up the first tenor part. If asked about favorites, family members will hum a few bars of a spiritual to be sure you know the piece. The chorus continues to sing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" directly to the bride at every family wedding. And if you’re fortunate, brothers Sparky and Allen will play "Way Down upon the Sewanee River" on their cheeks.

The family also takes pride in telling and retelling stories. The story belongs to the person who tells it best. Great Aunt Susie’s dog, Trubador, marched with the Clarksville High School band and bayed at funerals - rich fodder for the raconteurs. F.F. Marable, Jr.’s act of preaching at his own funeral was famous and began with "had I known the price of flowers were so high, I wouldn’t have died at this particular time."

So, there they were in Clarksville, Texas, on a hot, summer Sunday afternoon. Members had traveled from Austin, Waco, Dallas, Buda, San Antonio, and Springfield, Missouri, to gather once more in the family church. None of them would claim to be professional musicians, but they recognized music and laughter had kept their family together for generations. And each of them felt the need to pay homage to their ancestors where it all started - First Presbyterian Church of Clarksville. The Sweet Singer of Israel would be proud. And, so , until the next column, remember "Austria’s not the only country with singing families".

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